When the recent film started to be discussed and conversation went back to BBC television series, I found myself left out. Unlike everyone else (it seems) I hated the story - not the acting (which was first rate) the story. As I child I thought it made no sense and was highly suspicious of whoever wrote it.
However, in the recent discussions I found I could not clearly remember WHY I hated the story and disliked the author at the time. I could explain why I (as a fat, bald adult) dislike John “The Constant Gardener” Le Carre now - but not then.
So I went back and looked at the book itself (when in doubt - examine the text). And I have been reminded of the reasons I despised story and author.
There is no real reason given for Bill Hayden’s treason (no apologies for the “spoiler” - the work is not a “who-done-it”). Some (most) intelligence officiers betrayed Britain and other Western powers because of Marxist (or “Progressive” - as some of the American traitors denied being formal Marxists) ideology, some (actually very few) betrayed freedom for reasons of money or blackmail….
But with Bill?
No motive at all. Along with some waffle about “American vulgarity” (hang on - Bill H. was supposed to be antiAmerican by the early 1940s, when the “low” end of American culture was Glenn Miller and the Big Band sound, and nothing much was happening culturally in Britain) we are just given some internal thinking by the “George Smiley” character about how “Bill himself had been betrayed” as he had been brought up with the idea of Britain as a world power and this dream of power had been snatched from him by the decline of Britain - no more chance to “divide and conquer”.
“Divide and conquer” is the false theory that the British Empire (especially in India) was based upon promoting wars between groups of locals (who supposedly had been living in peace before the evil Brits arrived) and then taking over.
But “George Smiley” does not treat it as a false theory, he does not even treat it as a theory - to him it is a automatic (assumed as a starting assumption) truth. He takes the anti British line as automatically true - and this is the “hero” of the book, not the open traitor Bill H.
“But plenty of libertarians are anti Imperialists”.
Quite so (just as one can name many good, in methods and outcomes, British imperialists - one can also name many BAD ones). But my point is not “pro Empire”, it is that the hero takes a rabid bit of anti British propaganda as an obvious truth (something he just assumes in passing), as he does all the guff about general “exploitation” and so on.
Why should such a man want to be a British intelligence officer? Unless he is one of “Karla’s” agents himself, his life just makes no sense.
Forget the idea that Britain was (on balance) in fact a force for good (not evil) in the world. Let us say that someone believed that the anti British (past) case was TRUE - but wanted to defend Britain now, as a way of helping to defend the West generally.
There is not a sign of that in “George Smiley” either - not a sign that he has any positive opinions about free enterprise or anything like it. Again no reason for such a man to be an intelligence officer in the Cold War (the struggle between the West and international Marxism) - unless he was a Marxist intelligence officer (i.e. working for the other side).
So there is no reason for the treason of “Bill” and no reason for the loyality of “George”. Both are characters who make no sense at all. And, thus, the story makes no sense and the author is (at best) senseless.
Does “George” admire and respect the British past? Clearly not (as he, without even critically examining them, accepts all charges against Britain).
Does “George” respect and support post Imperial Britain as part of a general defence of Western Civil Society?
Certainly not - he clearly despises such “capitalist” ideas.
Does “Bill” have an ideological loyality to Marxism (or some other Progressive ideology) as most real traitors do?
No - he must be the only person in history (even the history of fiction) who wants to become a Soviet citizen without being explicitly Marxist. On the side of the “oppressed” against the “oppressors” and all the other Progressive, Social Justice, lies.
Is he being bribed or blackmailed?
The United States is hardly (in the age of Obama) a free enterprise country now - but one could make the case that in the late 1940s and 1950s the United States was basically a free enterprise (pro freedom) nation.
So is this what “Bill” hates? As a real traitor would.
No - he has some vague (unargued) cultural problem with a “vulgar” United States, at a time (1940s and 1950s) when most Americans wore a tailored suit (dressed far better than most British people did) and when a far higher percentage of Americans went to “high” culture events than British people did. And when most Americans were “better read” than most British people were.
I repeat it just makes no sense, the whole story is just drivil.
So it came as no shock to me when the author of this story turned out to share many of the ideological assumptions of the enemies (both external and internal) of the West.